Ziaukas Presents Paper on 'Mr. Yuk'

Mr. Yuk now has his own biographer. Tim Ziaukas, associate professor of public relations at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, presented a paper titled “Mr. Yuk is Mean … The Biography of an American Icon” at the Visual Communications Conference last month in Lake Tahoe, Nev.

In the 1970s, children in Pittsburgh were inadvertently ingesting poison at a rate higher than the national average, Ziaukas explained. Health officials eventually determined that this tragedy was occurring, at least in part, because of confusion caused by the beloved logo of the hometown baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, which used the skull and crossbones – a centuries-old image for danger or poison.

The Jolly Roger, as the skull and crossbones is called, progressed from being the calling card of pirates to a symbol meaning “poison.” But to the minds of children in Pittsburgh, the frightening symbol meant one thing – baseball, Ziaukas said.

In the early 1970s, medical and communication professionals at what is now the Poison Center at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC began to develop a replacement that wouldn’t confuse children – Mr. Yuk.

Ziaukas interviewed the medical and communications professionals who developed the Mr. Yuk campaign and charted their attempts to have it replace the Jolly Roger as the national symbol for poison.

“I grew up in Pittsburgh,” said Ziaukas, “and knew some of the people who had developed the Yuk campaign. I want to get the case of this iconic image on the academic record while most of the people who did the work are around to tell the tale.”

Ziaukas has taught public relations, journalism and visual communications classes at Pitt-Bradford since 1994. He is currently working on the publishable version of the Yuk campaign. His scholarly work has appeared in the Journal of Public Relations Research, Public Relations Quarterly, and American Journalism: A Journal of Media History.


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